Chris runs a healthcare facility in NY state. His 2005 Corolla has reached the 200,000-mile mark and while it runs ok, he is thinking it’s time to upgrade. He is looking for something that looks professional but is reliable, and easy to park for under $25,000. What car should he buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario -
I’m a mid 30s healthcare worker around the Western New York region who just turned the odometer over the 200,000 mark on my 2005 Toyota Corolla. The car has been as reliable as any could ever be, with the only repairs being those from exhaust system rust and general wear, and having no car payment for the better part of a decade has been a godsend. However, as someone running my own office, its time to drive up to my parking lot in something I don’t immediately have to rationalize to patients who see me get out of it.
Something on the smaller side, as my wife and I often take trips into Buffalo for dinner (RIP Restaurants) and having something mid-sized or smaller makes parking a breeze compared to my SUV or truck driving friends.
Power-wise I’m okay with under-powered or smaller engines, as you can tell by the fact that my current ride probably has 30 hp left. However, something with a bit more pep is welcome.
We do often vacation out in the woods or some nature equivalent, so somewhat extra storage is nice. Hatchbacks are not out of the question. All-wheel-drive would be a bonus but not a must-have and an automatic transmission is preferred.
Reliability is huge. I’ve had multiple GM cars and most have let me down more often than I’d care to admit—something imported is preferable. Although the imported kicker is my father in law owns an auto shop in town and about 30 years ago he emigrated from Poland. While back across the pond he spent the first half of his life as a mechanic in Western Poland and Berlin, and he now refuses to believe German cars are anything but a headache.
As for the budget I’m comfortable spending up to $25,000
Budget: up to $25,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Western NY state
Wants: Professional looking, reliable, easy to park
Doesn’t want: A big truck or SUV
First of all, I just want to extend a thank you for all the hard work you are doing during this difficult time. The Toyota has treated you well, and while some folks on the internet think that everyone should just drive 2005 Corollas forever, you definitely deserve to get yourself a nice car. With a budget of $25,000 you there are a lot of great rides to pick from.
My choice would be the all-new Mazda CX-30. This car is Mazda’s take on the lifted hatchback turned crossover trend like the Subaru Crosstrek and Hyundai Kona, which are both fine cars. However, the Mazda gives you an upgrade in a number of areas. First, you shouldn’t have to settle for a car with an underpowered motor, and the CX-30 comes with a punchy 186 HP engine and will even return up to 31 mpg. Like the Mazda3 hatchback it’s based on, the CX-30 is also a bit more “upscale” than most mainstream offerings. Of course, it also has loads of safety tech and almost any other feature you would be looking for in this category. Our man Bradly Brownwell even said it’s like a “budget Porsche Macan.”
Pricing for an AWD CX-30 starts at $24,400 and I bet with some rebates and haggling you can get a middle trim car within your budget range.
We aren’t huge proponents of buying a new new car on this site, but I have many reasons for suggesting a 2021 Hyundai Elantra. The first being, you’ve been driving a reliable, but still 15-year-old car. Time to treat yo’ self! Technology in cars has come so far since then, this Elantra will probably feel like a space ship. Another, more selfish reason is I really want to see more sedans with daring and interesting design choices on the road. Hyundai should be rewarded with sales for taking a chance on the beautiful and unique Hyundai Elantra. Its the only way to encourage automakers to keep making them, after all.
And really the Elantra checks all of your boxes. When it goes on sale the entry-level model will be had for around $20,000, but you could hit the limit of your spending and go for the top-teir Limited. If it’s milage you’re after (for when we can all drive to fun places again) the Elantra Hybrid is looking at 50 mpg. It’s not GM and it’s not German, plus as a brand-new car you won’t have to worry too much about maintenance for a while anyway. And while it is larger than the Sonata it is still a sedan with all of the technological bells and whistles, you’ll find parking a breeze.
Plus look at that thing! It’s gorgeous without being over-the-top. Other large automakers just aren’t putting this level of attention to detail into sedans these days. The only problem is that the new Elantras won’t be hitting dealer lots until nearer the end of the year, but you’ve got a car that can chug along for a few more months. If you are down for a brand-new car, go with the most interesting choice, hands down.
It’s hard to argue against the Mazda for an affordable, trusty car that looks and feels high quality for the price. The Hyundai, uh, sure is a an option if you like it, though I would do a Fit if I was getting something new.
Given that you want something that feels nice but is as comfortable mentally as it is physically, I’d suggest stepping up the Toyota ladder into the land of Lexus.
I’ve driven a bunch of the high-trim, high-power models in Toyota’s lineup, and Lexus is basically the same with uglier faces and nicer interiors. A lightly local used Lexus ES or IS would be a safe and satisfying choice.
As such, I’m obligated to mention that you could easily scoop up a more practical but exciting choice, the Lexus IS300 Sportcross. This one is way under your budget (asking only $13,800) and has everything you want out of Toyota reliability, plus style, plus wagon practicality. Also, you’re going to be getting it in the good color. Hard to say no!
I’ll be the first to admit that what you’re really looking for is pretty counter to my usual urges. If someone has any desire for anything unusual, I firmly believe they can find it and make it work. But, really, you just want something reliable and smaller and functional, and that’s absolutely fine. So while ever fiber of me wants to point you to some fascinating Kei car or something similarly bonkers yet applicable, I’ll keep it in check and say hey, what about a Honda Fit?
There’s actually a few very good little wagonoid-like cars that would fit your needs—the Toyota Corolla hatchback is good, the incognito Toyota called the Scion iM is decent, but I think maybe a Honda Fit like this 2018 one is maybe the best bet, and at $15,000, it’s ten grand less than you were looking to spend.
A new Toyota Corolla Hatchback is only around $20,000, so I guess that would make sense, too, though five grand is five grand, and I’m just not really sure it’d be worth the extra money. Maybe? Depends how much you like new car smells.
I mean, if we’re being brutally honest, even this 2015 Fit for just over $10,500 would likely do the job just fine, also, and that’s less than half of your budget. The good news is there’s a bunch of decent options to pick from, and I really think you can get by quite happily with something between $10 and $15 grand.
Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.